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From Naval officer to Benedictine nun

The paths God leads his people on often take unexpected turns; for Sister Elizabeth Baumgartner, however, she never could have imagined going from active duty to a life of prayer.

Sister Elizabeth made her solemn vows and consecrated her life to God as the newest solemnly professed Benedictine nun at the Abbey of St. Walburga Nov. 6. Before entering the monastery in August 2008, she spent 15 years on active military duty as a Naval officer – seven years as a communications officer and eight years as a Cryptologic officer. She served both on shore and on ships, and was stationed all around the world throughout her career.

Now, she will spend the remainder of her days on earth serving the Lord, the Church and the community.

“I pray that I … [bring] Christ to those around me,” she said. “To be a faithful Benedictine nun, preserving the ‘school of the Lord’s service’ all the days of my life.”

Baptized as Judith, Sister Elizabeth was born and raised in Denver and is the eldest of seven children. She attended public school from kindergarten to 5th grade, and attended the recently closed St. Louis in Englewood for her middle school years. She graduated from St. Mary’s Academy in Englewood in 1988, and went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. She was commissioned as an ensign upon her graduation in 1992.

While at the Naval Academy, Sister Elizabeth attended daily Mass as her schedule permitted. She was active in the Catholic community at each base she was assigned to while on active duty, and continued to attend Mass regularly. One day, while praying in the Catholic chapel at her first duty station in Naples, Italy, the thought of becoming a nun creeped into her mind.

“I was a bit surprised because I had never before thought of a vocation to religious life and besides, I had just begun my naval career and was really enjoying it,” she said. “I didn’t pay much attention to the thought and continued on with my life. Over the next ten years, the thought about religious life would pop up numerous times.”

After spending nine years overseas, Sister Elizabeth was stationed in Maryland in 2001. During this time, the desire for a vocation to religious life became very strong, she said, and she decided she needed to do something about it. She contacted a priest in the area she knew, and he put her in contact with a spiritual director and some sisters in the area.

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Judith Baumgarnter poses on a ship as a lieutentant in the United States Navy. Judith recently took a new name, Sister Elizabeth, when she made her solemn professions as the newest Benedictine nun at the Abbey of St. Walburga. (Photo provided)

She was transferred back to Naples in 2004 – her first assignment, and her last – and stopped actively looking into religious life due to being overseas again. Then one day after daily Mass, something unexpected happened.

“The priest asked me rather casually if I had ever thought about religious life, which surprised me since I had not mentioned anything to anyone,” Sister Elizabeth explained. “When I told him I had been thinking about religious life, but was unsure as to where I felt I was being led exactly, he offered assistance in finding a spiritual director in the area, as well as suggesting that I contact the abbess of a Benedictine abbey between Naples and Rome. He thought the Benedictines would be a good fit because I was older.”

She began spending time with the Benedictine nuns, and found herself being drawn more and more to the Benedictine life.

“After much prayer and consultation with my spiritual director, I decided to submit my request to resign my active duty commission in the U.S. Navy to actively pursue a vocation to religious life,” she said.

She settled on entering the Abbey of St. Walburga in her home state of Colorado, and after resigning from the Navy in September 2007, entered the monastery in August 2008. She made her first profession of monastic vows June 24, 2011, and made her solemn vows Nov. 6.

She received her religious name, Elizabeth, when she made her first vows, and it was only fitting that it fell on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

“My patroness is St. Elizabeth, mother of St. John the Baptist, so it was very beautiful that the Abbess chose the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist as the date of my first profession of monastic vows,” she said.

Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.
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